Oklahoma’s roads and bridges are making a comeback…
12:50 PM EDT on August 9, 2017
Before it was cool to complain about man-made earthquakes, the education funding crisis, botched executions, mass incarceration, opioid epidemic and all the other fun bad stuff affecting our state, the number one thing to gripe about in Oklahoma was the disastrous condition of our roads and bridges.
According to News 9, that long-standing issue is finally being resolved.
Oklahoma's Bridges Are Getting Better
Newly released data show the number of structurally deficient bridges in Oklahoma and across the nation has gone down.
The American Road & Transportation Builders Association says the number of structurally deficient bridges in the U.S. has been reduced by 24.5 percent since 2007. Federal bridge data shows Oklahoma has seen one of the biggest decreases in the last 10 years.
Currently, Oklahoma has 3,460 structurally deficient bridges, which is 15 percent of the total bridges in the state. That percentage is the 8th most in the country. In 2007, Oklahoma had 5,928 structurally deficient bridges. That's a 41.6 percent change in the right direction over that time, the 8th biggest negative percentage change in the nation.
Wow. We only have 3,460 structurally deficient bridges!? That's awesome! Who's ready for a scenic road trip across our state's derelict back-roads to celebrate!
Actually, I can think of one person who isn't ready. That would be the person who drives this car:
That pic is from a bridge collapse that happened over the weekend near Wagoner in Northeastern Oklahoma. Since that bridge is no longer a bridge, does it mean we now only have 3,459 structurally deficient bridges? If so, that's even more progress!
Anyway, before we hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner over George W. Bush bridge and get Rilla Askew to pen a novel titled the "Bridges of Pottawatomie County," we may want to temper our expectations. Thanks to the Oklahoma legislature and Mary Fallin, it looks like progress on our roads and bridges may be slowing down.
State lawmakers use road, bridge money to plug budget holes
Every car tag Oklahomans purchase provides money to build or improve local roads and bridges. Or it would if state lawmakers weren't using those funds to plug state budget holes.
Now, Cleveland County officials fear critical projects may be delayed if lawmakers don't stop plundering those funds.
In Oklahoma, motor vehicle license and registration fees provide a revenue stream for the County Improvements for Roads and Bridges (CIRB) revolving fund established by House Bill 1176 in 2006. Counties started using that money by the 2008 state fiscal year and the tax increased from 5 percent in 2008 to 20 percent in 2015, with priority on critical and large-scale projects.
The revolving fund allows counties to carry money over for five years as large projects roll out. Legislators have promised county projects won't be affected, but county commissioners charged with the upkeep of rural roads and bridges don't think the math adds up.
“They're doing some funny accounting. Even though they took $50 million out, we were still on plan as if we had the $50 million,” Cleveland County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said. “Right now, there's not any immediate problem.”
Cleveland said because county commissioners allow money to accumulate to pay for large projects, there's plenty in the fund right now to continue with projects, but the money coming in has fallen below the money that's being spent.
Eventually, he said, the deficit will catch up with them and could then delay critical projects, some of which may have been in the works for years.
That's great. Right when we think things are getting better, they turn around and get worse. Oh well, at least we'll be able to complain about that awful state of our roads and bridges again. I'm always a sucker for nostalgia.